Welcome back to The Sunday Census! Throughout the week, The Win Column will be posing topical and intriguing polls on Twitter (@wincolumnblog) to gauge the fan-base’s stance on pressing issues. Want to make sure your opinion is taken into effect? Vote in the polls, start a debate, and propose alternative suggestions on the polls!
This one was really close, with Flames fans torn on which player is the most underrated. Unfortunately for David Rittich, once you have a nickname as iconic as Big Save Dave, it’s hard to call yourself underrated. However, Travis Hamonic, Noah Hanifin, and our poll winner Elias Lindholm were all in contention.
This is a tricky question because it really depends how you look at it. To me, it has to be a toss up between Hamonic and Hanifin. It is hard to call a player who is on the top line, and who put up 78 points in 81 games last season underrated. Does he have room to grow as a player? Maybe. Could he be even better this season? He could. But at the end of the day, the Flames definitely value him incredibly highly. He’s their go-to guy for offensive zone faceoffs, he plays in all situations including the top powerplay and top penalty killing units, and is leading the team in goals and points to start the year. Lindholm is an excellent player, but most people know and appreciate that at this point.
With Hanifin and Hamonic, it is a toss up between a player who does a lot of small defensive plays well but doesn’t have much of an offensive side, and a player who is young and offensively gifted with a lot of potential that people can see. Hamonic is never going to be among the team’s best offensive producers on the blueline. However, he is a steady, reliable defensive defenceman who you know will be there to make the smart play to get the puck up the ice. He is a player who will stand up for his teammates, draw penalties, and block shots in lanes. He does the little things well for the Flames.
Hanifin is an excellent depth defenceman, who can score goals and set up beautiful plays. He was drafted fifth overall, is only 22 years old, and has been steadily progressing through over 300 NHL games already under his belt. With 24 points last season, and two goals already this year, he is an excellent companion to Hamonic on the second pairing. However, do the Flames value him enough?
It’s frustrating to see T.J. Brodie continue to anchor the second powerplay unit. Hanifin has shown more offensive upside and really should be on that unit ahead of Brodie. His usage reads similarly to that of Dougie Hamilton in his first years as a Flame. Coaches were hesitant to put him on the powerplay despite his incredible offensive skillset for unknown reasons, and that was definitely the wrong call; look how great he’s been for Carolina on the powerplay. The Flames should promote Hanifin and tap into his offensive instincts.
If I had to pick, it would be Hanifn for the most underrated Flame, but there are a few solid choices to pick from.
With nearly 300 votes on this poll, it definitely hit on a point of contention among Flames fans. At the time of the poll, the top line of Johnny Guadreau, Sean Monahan, and Lindholm seemed to be set in stone and Austin Czarnik was not sidelined with injury, so the question was really looking at who should play on the wing with Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk.
An overwhelming number of Flames fans felt that youngster Andrew Mangiapane should have a chance to return to the second line. He was dynamite in games two and three of the season alongside the other two M’s, with the line posting a 66.7% CF against the Vancouver Canucks and a 70.8% CF against the Los Angeles Kings. However, that line was not nearly as good in the following two games, and Michael Frolik took his place again on that line.
Austin Czarnik also got a look on the second line in California against the Kings and the Anaheim Ducks, where the line hovered around the 50% CF mark. However, just as he started playing well, Czarnik went out with an injury that landed him on the LTIR.
With respect to the 17% of Flames fans that felt that Sam Bennett deserved a look on the second line, I see absolutely no reason for that. Bennett has looked incredibly terrible to start the season. He has contributed minimally on offense, has taken unnecessary penalties, and has looked slow and lost on the ice. A shutdown line plays against the top players of the other team, and for a player still floundering to find his feet in the league, Bennett is not effectively served against top quality opposition. It is probably best to give him heavy offensive zone starts, with the hope that he can start scoring and increase his confidence. There’s still hope he becomes the player the team expected him to be when they drafted him fourth overall, but it looks a lot like wishful thinking at this point.
Interestingly, Milan Lucic, who was a distant fourth place finisher in the poll, has ended up the winner here. He got a look on the second/third line in the Heritage Classic in Regina. Bill Peters put his lines in a blender, and Lucic played alongside Backlund and Frolik, with Tkachuk playing alongside Lindholm at centre and Gaudreau on the wing. While he is not the fastest guy on the ice, Lucic looked quite good against the Jets. Posting a 58.3% CF, and generally holding his own all night long, he looked like a force out on the ice. There is a good chance he gets another game on the second line. The line juggling looked pretty good for large stretches of the game and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Lucic is on that Backlund line for a few games on this upcoming road trip.
Want to be a part of the conversation next time around? Follow us on Twitter @wincolumnblog and be sure to keep a look out for our polls throughout the week.
Photo credits: Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images